It’s easy to forget, though it really shouldn’t be, that ours is an island nation. So if there’s an element to which we Scots can claim the greatest degree of kinship it’s not earth, wind or fire but water – in the form of rain of course (we have lots of that) but also the salty stuff that laps against our 10,000 miles of coastline. A great many of us, if we don’t live near enough to the sea to actually smell it, live surrounded by it or a short drive away from it. According to Marine Scotland there are over 900 Scottish islands, give or take the odd islet, and on over 100 of them you’ll find creatures of the upright, two legged variety sharing space with birds, mammals and midges (we have lots of them too). To underline the fact, 2020 is Visit Scotland’s Year Of Coasts And Waters, a year-long celebration of our coastline, islands, waterways and lochs.

Look for a quintessentially Scottish view and the eyes often turn upwards, to the Bens and the high mountain peaks. But you might just as well look out across the water, as Scots have done for generations – to a threatening sky, an unreadable expanse of sea and, quite likely, to a ferry in the unmistakeable black, white, yellow and red livery of Caledonian MacBrayne. In that sense, we’re also a nation of ships and, in particular, of ferries.

The pandemic has reduced both the service and its passenger numbers, and with deleterious effects for island communities. Arran has been particularly badly hit. Caledonian MacBrayne isn’t without its critics, either. But Scotland’s populated islands have been served for generations by it and other companies and, regardless of who runs the ferries in the future, for our island nation the service will remain a vital one.

Herald photographer Jamie Simpson caught this scene standing shore-side in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. His picture shows the MV Bute, which carries 60 cars and 450 passengers, leaving Rothesay for Wemyss Bay on February 9, 2016. To be honest, though, it could have been almost any day and any populated island.

And don’t think he was that lucky with that rainbow either: as anyone knows who has travelled the west coast, where the sea meets the land rainbows are almost as common a sight as the ferries themselves.

What to read

In his much-loved stories about the ship Vital Spark and its resourceful captain, Para Handy, Inverary-born journalist and author Neil Munro immortalised life on board a Clyde puffer in the early 20th century. Coal-fired, single-masted and often flat-bottomed to allow them to beach efficiently, these cargo ships were of vital importance serving isolated island and coastal communities up and down the west coast. Ealing Studios’ 1954 comedy The Maggie was inspired in part by the success of Munro’s stories.